Compassion Fatigue is an occupational hazard in the field of healthcare. Taking constant inventory on your personal self-care to promote a healthy, sustainable career in your field of study is more important than ever as responsibilities and workload continue to rise in the industry. It is seen as a cost of caring, within high care occupations where empathy, caring for others, and compassion are at the occupational core. Those who work in healthcare are aware, to some extent, of the high burnout rates that are go hand-in-hand with the industry.
What is the requirement for providers to maintain self-care? What are the boundaries with their patients that minimize the emotional toll the healthcare field can take on professionals? What can be done to maximize career longevity and work efficiency?
Awareness is prevention when it comes to alleviating the risk for compassion fatigue. Consistent restorative self-care is at the heart of preventing this cost of caring. Many helpers tend to put their needs last and feel guilty for taking extra time out of their busy schedules for things like exercising, taking a weekend vacation, or simply reading a book. We do not have to reduce compassion or turn away from caring in order to prevent compassion fatigue. Rather, in the presence of deep self-compassion, in the form of self-care and personal renewal, all other caring can flow.
5 PATHWAYS FOR HEALING OR PREVENTING COMPASSION FATIGUE:
1. Consider how you replenish your mind, body, heart and spirit
How do you nourish your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health on a daily basis? As helpers, we are the tools of our trade – our attitudes, character, ethics, and integrity all contribute to our success and capacity within our work. We have to be healthy to do our best work, and to do this work in ways that are sustainable and maturing over time. We must “practice what we preach” and ensure that our own restorative self-care is a top priority in order to prevent compassion fatigue. Everyone is unique in how they go about recharging their system. Here are some easy ways to achieve overall wellness:
- Read, listen to music, draw, paint
- Practice yoga, exercise, meditate, play sports
- Eat clean, opt for a natural diet
2. Access and Nurture Support
Emotional support, peer support and supervision are all helpful when it comes to mitigating the risk of compassion fatigue. In fact, social support is one of the key predictors of whether or not a professional will suffer or stay well. We need one another to stay strong, resilient and healthy as helpers. We are not meant to do this alone or in isolation. Talking to someone you trust is the easiest way to cope with personal stress and/or sensitive issues. However, there are tons of online support groups out there (online.supportgroups.com) where you can access the resources you need and communicate with people who understand exactly what you are going through.
3. Stay connected to meaning
Research shows that the more we stay connected to our own sense of purpose and meaning within our work- the more we minimize the risk for burnout and compassion fatigue. Increasing a sense of meaningfulness at work is one of the most powerful, and underutilized, ways to increase productivity, engagement, and performance.
How do we find meaning?
To answer this, it’s important to know the difference between what makes us happy and what brings us meaning. Happiness is associated with being a “taker,” focusing on what we get from others. Meaningfulness, in contrast, comes from being a “giver,” suspending what we want and desire for a fair amount of self-sacrifice. Our sense of purpose and meaning within our work requires us to give to others, in service of the greater good. It may seem challenging, but you may need to rethink your role in order to develop with greater clarity on how to retro-fit your work to your passions, values, and strengths, in order to find meaning.
4. Engage in reflective practice
Mindfulness, reflective practice and journaling are all proven ways to mitigate the risk for compassion fatigue. The more self-aware, grounded, centered and present in the moment we are, the more attuned to our own needs we become. Listening within is at the heart of well-being and renewal for helpers. Here are several ways to increase your self-awareness:
- Take a personality test
- Participate in a 360+degree assessment
- Ask for informal feedback
- Reflect on a regular basis
- Write in a journal
- Be interviewed
- Exercise and seek out recreation
Reflection and self-awareness is a continuing process of collecting feedback, analyzing and understanding it, and applying your discoveries – which leads to greater emotional intelligence, and quality work performance.
5. Be kind to yourself
Treat yourself with the same care, compassion and concern that you treat others, including your clients and those you serve. We can be hard on ourselves as helpers, but self-compassion is the path to having true compassion for others.
By actively engaging in these 5 techniques for healing and prevention, you can begin to understand the complexity of the emotions associated with compassion fatigue, how to recognize them, heal them, and prevent them from coming back. It’s important to give yourself credit for moving forward and affecting change within yourself. It can be hard to do, especially when the majority of your time and energy is focused on helping others… but hard work on yourself will pay off in the end.